It has to be the Holy Grail of human space exploration. A fully and rapidly reusable taxi too and from Low Earth Orbit (LEO). In the 50 years since the first Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin ventured into the unknown less than 600 people have followed. Humans have not left the Orbit of Earth in almost 40 years. Why? Cost.
Getting to Space is expensive… really expensive. The Space Shuttle averaged at over $1 billion per flight, for 135 flights over 3 decades. It is easy to have a go at Lockheed Martin and the Space Shuttle. It couldn’t go above LEO, it could fly if it was to cloudy and it killed a lot of people, but it did prove one thing,its super damn hard to build a fully reusable space vehicle. Discovery did set records with its 39 return trips to Space but it could hardly be described as having a quick turnaround time with every component having to be retested and replaced if need be for every single flight.
Enter SpaceX and the Falcon 9, the commercial solution to the Space taxi problem. Founded by Elon Musk in 2002, Space Explorations Technologies has the small goal of making life multi-planetary. With the Dragon space capsule and Falcon’s 1 and 9 proven in flight, Musk is tackling that age of problem of reusing a craft which would otherwise be dumped in the ocean or burnt up on re-entry.
The plan involves putting heat shields on both the first and second stages of the Falcon 9 and fitting them with retro boosters so they can land up right on a launch pad near the take off site. This does sacrifice the payload capabilities to LEO but the trick is to make some sort of trade off between weight and re-usability. This has never been done before so will be interesting to see if it can make the jump from computer screen to reality. Many have tried and failed, but our future as a civilization depends upon us leaving this rock or face the long eventual wait for the space rock with our name on it.
If it can be proved in practice we will be witnessing a new dawn in Human exploration with possible colonies on Mars for millions of Earthlings. So fingers crossed and lets hope its not just another big idea!
- albaorbital posted this